How AI can accelerate the search for treatments for emerging and intractable diseases

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Joanna Shields, Chief Executive Officer, BenevolentAI


  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a powerful tool in the search for COVID-19 treatments.
  • In January, BenevolentAI identified a drug for rheumatoid arthritis as a potential therapy for the novel coronavirus. It’s now being tested in large-scale trials around the world.
  • AI models and algorithms can save time and money in the search for potential drug leads for emerging diseases.

The sudden appearance and rapid spread of COVID-19 took governments and society by surprise. As they dusted off pandemic response plans and geared up to fight the virus, it became clear that we needed to turbo-charge R&D efforts and find better ways to hunt down promising treatments for emerging diseases.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has proven a powerful tool in this fight.

In a pandemic, speed is of the essence. Although scientists managed to sequence the genetic code of the new coronavirus and produce diagnostic tests in record time, developing drugs and vaccines against the virus remains a long haul.

AI has the power to accelerate the process by reasoning across all available biomedical data and information in a systematic search for existing approved medicines – a vital step in helping patients while the world waits for a vaccine.

Machines excel in handling data in fast-changing circumstances, which means machine learning systems can be harnessed to work as tireless and unbiased super-researchers.

 

This is not just theory. In late January, using its proprietary platform of AI models and algorithms to search through the scientific literature, researchers at BenevolentAI in London identified an established, once-daily arthritis pill as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The findings were published in two papers in The Lancet and The Lancet Infectious Diseases, in line with our commitment under the Wellcome Trust pledge to share our coronavirus-related research rapidly and openly.

BenevolentAI COVID-19 timeline
BenevolentAI’s COVID-19 timeline
Image: BenevolentAI

The discovery followed a computer-driven hunt for drug candidates with both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, since in severe cases of COVID-19 it is the body’s overactive immune response that can cause significant and sometimes fatal damage.

The drug, baricitinib, is currently marketed by Eli Lilly to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Now, thanks to AI, it is being tested against COVID-19 in a major randomised-controlled trial in collaboration with the U.S. National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in combination with remdesivir, an antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences that recently won emergency-use approval for COVID-19. Eli Lilly has now commenced its own independent trial of baricitinib as a therapy for COVID-19 in South America, Europe and Asia.

The BenevolentAI knowledge graph
The BenevolentAI knowledge graph found that baricitinib might help treat COVID-19.
Image: BenevolentAI

The system used to identify baricitinib was not actually set up to find new uses of existing medicines, but rather to discover and develop new drugs – a sign of the potential for AI to uncover novel insights and relationships across an unlimited number of biological entities. In a crisis like COVID-19, it clearly makes sense to hunt through already approved drugs that can be ready for large-scale clinical trials until vaccines are approved and readily available in the global supply chain.

The long-term promise of AI goes far beyond COVID-19.

BenevolentAI’s vision is to dramatically improve pharmaceutical R&D productivity across the board and to expand the drug discovery universe by making predictions in novel areas of biology. Currently, around half of late-stage clinical trials fail due to ineffective drug targets, resulting in only 15% of drugs advancing from mid-stage Phase 2 testing to approval.

Using a “knowledge graph” composed of chemical, biological and medical research and information, the company’s AI machine learning models and algorithms can identify potential drug leads currently unknown in medical science and far faster than humans. While such systems will never replace scientists and clinicians, they can save both time and money. And the agnostic approach adopted by machine learning means such platforms can generate leads that may have been overlooked by traditional research.

The endeavour has already led to an in-house project on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), ulcerative colitis, atopic dermatitis and programmes with partners on progressive kidney and lung diseases, as well as hard-to-treat cancers like glioblastoma.

The ability of machines to solve complex biological puzzles more rapidly than human experts has prompted increased investment in AI drug discovery by a growing number of large pharmaceutical companies.

And AI is also being harnessed in other areas of medicine, such as the analysis of medical images. This encompasses long-standing work on cancer scans and much more recent efforts to use computer power to identify COVID-19 from chest X-rays, including the open-access COVID-Net neural network.

Health and healthcare

How is the World Economic Forum bringing data-driven healthcare to life?

The application of “precision medicine” to save and improve lives relies on good-quality, easily-accessible data on everything from our DNA to lifestyle and environmental factors. The opposite to a one-size-fits-all healthcare system, it has vast, untapped potential to transform the treatment and prediction of rare diseases—and disease in general.

But there is no global governance framework for such data and no common data portal. This is a problem that contributes to the premature deaths of hundreds of millions of rare-disease patients worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Breaking Barriers to Health Data Governance initiative is focused on creating, testing and growing a framework to support effective and responsible access – across borders – to sensitive health data for the treatment and diagnosis of rare diseases.

The data will be shared via a “federated data system”: a decentralized approach that allows different institutions to access each other’s data without that data ever leaving the organization it originated from. This is done via an application programming interface and strikes a balance between simply pooling data (posing security concerns) and limiting access completely.

The project is a collaboration between entities in the UK (Genomics England), Australia (Australian Genomics Health Alliance), Canada (Genomics4RD), and the US (Intermountain Healthcare).

Clearly, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for the world. It seems this outbreak may be part of an increasingly frequent pattern of epidemics, fuelled by our hyper-connected modern world. As a result, medical experts are braced for more previously unknown “Disease X” threats in the years ahead as viruses jump from animals to humans and jet around the world.

Technology has helped create a world in which pathogens like COVID-19, SARS and Zika can spread. But technology, in the form of AI, can also provide us with the weapons to fight back.

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Comments

  1. People should know that the proper use of vitamin C is a tested and verified safe, cheap and effective treatment, and prophylactic, against covid-19 — see orthomolecular d ot o r g (click on ‘Library’ and then ‘News Releases’ and read the editions from about February of 2020 on forward)

    A lot of this is based on Nobel laureate Linus Pauling’s pioneering work. HOWEVER….. everyone should keep the following in mind, especially now with the corona scamdemic going on: there are many bogus voices around who strive to distract the public from (1) the value of vitamin C therapy and (2) the fact that Pauling’s VALID work with vitamin C supplementation has been “falsified” by data distortions and lies, and he as a person (a double Nobel laureate) has been slandered as some deluded idiot by the criminal medical establishment and its countless quackwatch shills, lackeys, ignoramuses, and trolls for decades and it continues today — search for the scholarly report “2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous” by Rolf Hefti (a published author of the Orthomolecular Medicine News organization). The same corrupt criminal people (and their uninformed followers) are behind the organized suppression, lies, and half-truths spread about the value of vitamin C therapy against covid-19 — see orthomolecular d ot o r g

    But you can’t discredit the facts with lies. That only exposes and discredits the liars (see citations above).

    The fact that we are dealing with a VERY CRIMINAL OFFICIAL POWER STRUCTURE (the Deep State, governments, WHO, official corporate medicine, CDC/Fauci, the mainstream media, paid off scientists, Bill Gates, etc) that constantly hoodwinks the unsuspecting public with MANY BIG LIES can easily be recognized by anyone with two working brain cells when reading this one sentence by a former US government official, Paul Craig Roberts, Ph.D., in his article ‘The Cost of Big Pharma’s Covid-19 Vaccine Will Be Paid in Lives and in Billions of Dollars’:

    “A corrupt establishment and media that can sell us 9/11, Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Iranian nukes, Assad’s use of chemical weapons, a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russiagate and a large number of other lies can also sell us on locking up a successful treatment in the closet while we await a vaccine.”

    or from another article of his:

    “In “freedom and democracy” America there is only official truth, and it is a lie. […]. […] when I told the truth that Russiagate was a hoax, which it has proved to be, an anonymous website, possibly a CIA or NATO operation called “PropOrNot,” included this website among its fake list of 200 “Russian agents/dupes.” The Washington Post, a believed long-time CIA asset, hyped the PropOrNot revelation as if it were the truth. With “Russiagate” in full hype, the purpose was to scare readers away from those of us who were exposing the hoax. […]. The way those with agendas control the explanations is by shouting down those who provide objective accounts. Social media is part of the censorship. Explanations out of step with official ones are labeled “abusive,” and in “violation of community standards.” In other words, truth is unacceptble. […]. Everyone who uses social media is by their use supporting censorship. Facebook imposes fascist censorship in order to protect official explanations. The presstitutes and universities do the same. In America truth has lost its value. […]. Even a public health threat like coronavirus is politicized. […]. If you are Big Pharma, NIH, CDC, or the research professionals dependent on grants from these sources, you want a vaccine, not a cure. This means a long wait, assuming an effective and safe vaccine is possible. […]. The hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), zinc, and intravenous vitamin C treatments, which have proved to be effective, are badmouthed by Big Pharma and its minions. In other words, the profit agenda over-rides health care and the saving of lives. […]. It is all about money. There are no profits for Big Pharma or a chance for patents for Dr. Fauci unless inexpensive HCQ, zinc, and Vitamin C can be sidelined.”

    Also, if nothing else, watch this MUST-SEE documentary: is d o t gd/uQH5Lb

    And if you still do not think that covid-19 is a planned scamdemic ponder this statement by the American investigative reporter Jon Rappoport:

    “Since planes fly back and forth, and since all sorts of Westerners travel to the rainforests, why haven’t we seen whole native tribes wiped out by viruses from the deep dark streets of Brooklyn? It would even seem that viruses, common in, say, Norway, would cause trouble in Oregon. Why does it have to be “viruses from jungles?” Or other faraway places like China? […]. […] is it possible that jungles and Africa and China are typically chosen for virus fairy tales because, in the minds of many Westerners, they satisfy a requirement of “strange,” “different,” “primitive,” and so on? We’re talking theater here—and when you stage a propaganda play (fiction), you want to tap into the reflex instincts of the audience. The Hartford Virus, the Des Moines Virus, the Vancouver Virus just don’t fit the bill. Because they can’t drive up the fear that jungles or Africa or China can. […]. We NEVER hear killer virus stories about germs traveling from Europe and America to Asia and Africa. Why not? Because such a story won’t sell. It won’t bite. This is called a clue. It tells you that virus-stories are shaped and managed and written and managed and broadcast according to a plan that has nothing to do with actual disease.”

    But having true knowledge like that is not enough in itself, YOUR BEHAVIOR must reflect the implications of that knowledge…. ESPECIALLY NOW IN THE FACE OF THIS MASSIVE EVIL SCAM. As the American social critic Paul Rosenberg pointed out in his article ‘Nothing Changes As Long As You Obey’:

    “I hear the same complaints about politicians that you do. And while I understand them, the fact is that complaining accomplishes almost nothing. And there is a very simple reason why complaining has no real effect: BECAUSE THE COMPLAINERS KEEP RIGHT ON OBEYING. As long as you obey, the things you complain about will keep on happening.”

    And Edmund Burke said:

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.”

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